Nonprofit Whacks Away at “Wacky” Warning Labels

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May 17, 2011; Source: WABC-TV | This story may be a little hard to swallow. It seems there's a nonprofit called The Center for America, that as part of its mission to "reduce barriers to free enterprise," is taking aim at labels that warn people who chew ballpoint pens that if swallowed, the cap can obstruct breathing. That warning is one of five finalists in the group's 14th Annual Wacky Warning Labels contest that, according to the Associated Press, "calls out silly warning labels and rails against lawsuits it deems frivolous."

Perhaps the group has a point about the pen cap warning. It only appears in the English section of the instructions of the manufacturer, which also are printed in French, Spanish and German. To Bob Dorigo Jones, who started the contest, the fact that non-English speakers aren't warned about the danger of swallowing pen caps is because lawsuits are "a uniquely American problem." He adds that in other countries, people "do not sue when they cause an injury to themselves because their systems don't allow it."

The other warnings in contention for title of the wackiest, which is expected to be announced in June, include: a dust mask that warns that it "does not supply oxygen," or that to "avoid drowning," people are told to remove the safety cover on a hot tub "when in use." Another warns would-be bicycle riders, that, "The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous. The riders seen are experts or professionals."

The AP notes, however, that "some of the children pictured have training wheels on their bikes." Finally, there's the leather handgun holster that, at first glance, looks a personal digital assistant, that comes with the warning: "For gun only, not a functional day planner." That label, like the other singled out by the Center for America, are examples that labels are off target. Says Jones, "We have become so over-warned in America," he said. "Many warning-label experts . . . believe that warnings have gotten to the point that people ignore them now."—Bruce Trachtenbergh